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Lapp Luxury

May 10, 2000|CHARLES PERRY

The remotest people in Europe are the Lapps of northern Scandinavia, who were still mostly nomads until the 20th century. The Lapps were so out of the loop they didn't even start using flour in their cookery until the 17th century, and for a long time after that, all they did with it was roll out a sort of tortilla and "bake" it on a plank set near the fire, the way American fishermen sometimes "plank" fish.

You have to remember that plant-based foods are pretty rare in their subarctic environment. If there were any vegetarian Lapps around before the potato was introduced, they wouldn't have had anything to eat but sorrel, angelica, berries and the sapwood of trees--and that's during summer.

These days most Lapps are settled, but when they were still nomads, they lived entirely off their reindeer herds. A family of six would go through a reindeer a week, boiling the organ meats (along with the tongue and tail) into soup, perhaps selling the best cuts to settled people and definitely making the rest into jerky.

In summer, they lived on reindeer milk and a sort of cheese made by evaporating the milk beside the fire. Reindeer are not generous milkers; about a cup a day was all a herdsman could expect from a given doe. It's rich milk, 17% butterfat, though reindeer butter is said to be unpalatable. If you wanted to check this out, by the way, you'd have to go out and milk a reindeer yourself; these days, your average Lapp just heads to the market and buys cow's milk.

Fish was also a summer food. In fact, dried pike was carried along on journeys and eaten as is, like bread. It's easier than rolling out a tortilla and baking it on a plank, and fish is higher in protein.

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